The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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Apex Symbol Icon

Apex City (which is usually just called “Apex”) is a fictional town in the Midwestern United States that represents how the middle of the country differs from the coasts. As the hometown of Undine Spragg and many other characters in the novel, it ironically doesn’t represent the “apex” of their social climbing but in fact is only the first rung of the ladder. Mr. Spragg is one of the richest men in Apex, but after moving to New York City, he finds that his wealth doesn’t take him nearly as far as it did in the Midwest. Many characters, such as Undine and Elmer Moffatt, try to shed their connections to Apex, using their move to New York as an opportunity for rebirth, highlighting the Midwest’s supposed undesirability.

Undine, however, sometimes finds that New York doesn’t live up to its grand reputation and that the Fifth Avenue elites of the big city are not as far above their counterparts in Apex as they might like to think. Apex represents a smaller, more insular way of living than the cosmopolitan New York, although the novel constantly returns to the question of whether the upper-class residents of New York are really as worldly and sophisticated as they’d like to believe they are.

Apex Quotes in The Custom of the Country

The The Custom of the Country quotes below all refer to the symbol of Apex. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Undine Spragg—how can you?” her mother wailed, raising a prematurely-wrinkled hand heavy with rings to defend the note which a languid “bell-boy” had just brought in.

But her defence was as feeble as her protest, and she continued to smile on her visitor while Miss Spragg, with a turn of her quick young fingers, possessed herself of the missive and withdrew to the window to read it.

“I guess it’s meant for me,” she merely threw over her shoulder at her mother.

Related Symbols: Apex
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

The dinner too was disappointing. Undine was too young to take note of culinary details, but she had expected to view the company through a bower of orchids and eat pretty-coloured entrees in ruffled papers. Instead, there was only a low centre-dish of ferns, and plain roasted and broiled meat that one could recognize—as if they’d been dyspeptics on a diet! With all the hints in the Sunday papers, she thought it dull of Mrs. Fairford not to have picked up something newer; and as the evening progressed she began to suspect that it wasn’t a real “dinner party,” and that they had just asked her in to share what they had when they were alone.

Related Symbols: Fifth Avenue, Apex
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Moffatt’s social gifts were hardly of a kind to please the two ladies: he would have shone more brightly in Peter Van Degen’s set than in his wife’s. But neither Clare nor Mrs. Fairford had expected a man of conventional cut, and Moffatt’s loud easiness was obviously less disturbing to them than to their hostess. Undine felt only his crudeness, and the tacit criticism passed on it by the mere presence of such men as her husband and Bowen; but Mrs. Fairford seemed to enjoy provoking him to fresh excesses of slang and hyperbole.

Related Symbols: Apex
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

“If you’d only had the sense to come straight to me, Undine Spragg!

There isn’t a tip I couldn’t have given you—not one!”

Related Symbols: Apex
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

It was of no consequence that the details and the technicalities escaped her: she knew their meaningless syllables stood for success, and what that meant was as clear as day to her. Every Wall Street term had its equivalent in the language of Fifth Avenue, and while he talked of building up railways she was building up palaces, and picturing all the multiple lives he would lead in them. To have things had always seemed to her the first essential of existence, and as she listened to him the vision of the things he could have unrolled itself before her like the long triumph of an Asiatic conqueror.

Related Characters: Elmer Moffatt, Undine Spragg
Related Symbols: Apex, Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Custom of the Country PDF

Apex Symbol Timeline in The Custom of the Country

The timeline below shows where the symbol Apex appears in The Custom of the Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
As a child in Apex (a town in the Midwestern U.S.), Undine was never very interested in playing with other... (full context)
Chapter 3
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
...mustache. Although Laura Fairford talks well at the party, Undine feels that the people of Apex talk even more, with a larger vocabulary too. Everyone joins in the conversation, and they... (full context)
Chapter 4
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
...an opera box. Her mother tries to explain that while Mr. Spragg was rich for Apex, he’s not quite so rich in New York. Undine asks why they ever left, but... (full context)
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...parents before. Her first big goal was to find a way to get out of Apex in the summers. Initially, when she was home from boarding school, she went to a... (full context)
Chapter 6
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...about Undine’s background. He learned that Mr. Spragg was poor when he first came to Apex, but eventually, he managed to take over some land from a bad debt and build... (full context)
Chapter 7
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...say that Undine had better think twice before divorcing him. Undine jokes that back in Apex, people consider it a good thing if a woman leaves a man who doesn’t meet... (full context)
Chapter 9
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...felt as afraid of Elmer as her father does. Elmer brings up how back in Apex, Undine was engaged to marry a notable local man; she was still so young that... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...to learn that Elmer is living in New York. Elmer had to get out of Apex after some “unpleasantness” between him and Undine made Mr. Spragg and Mrs. Spragg turn against... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Undine begs Elmer not to mention anything about their history together in Apex to anyone in New York. She says on the East Coast, people don’t even like... (full context)
Chapter 10
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
When Mr. Spragg first arrived on Wall Street, he kept many of his qualities from Apex, but there was something different behind his eyes. Now, Mr. Spragg is shocked to learn... (full context)
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...become Harmon B. Driscoll’s secretary due to his inside information about underhanded business dealings in Apex. Mr. Spragg himself was involved in these dealing but got out—but Representative James J. Rolliver... (full context)
Chapter 14
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
...her current marriage is as bad as some of the mistakes she made back in Apex. She really feels this way when Claud Popple invites several of her acquaintances to come... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
...(as in, a ball and chain) because of what he knows about crooked dealings in Apex. The mention of Elmer causes Undine to go pale. (full context)
Chapter 18
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...that she owes her trip all to Elmer. They walk more, and Elmer mentions some Apex gossip about how Indiana Frusk got Representative James J. Rolliver to abandon his family for... (full context)
Chapter 34
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...seems that Elmer has some connection to Representative James J. Rolliver, who runs things in Apex. Clare doesn’t care about the details—she’ll give him money regardless. Ralph has already raised some... (full context)
Chapter 35
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Ralph reads the papers for news from Apex that Elmer’s scheme has gone through. But the news doesn’t come, and when Ralph tries... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...Elmer’s deal doesn’t go through. Finally, Ralph happens to hear from Henley Fairford that the Apex deal actually fell through. Ralph tries to get ahold of Elmer for a few days... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Elmer confirms for Ralph that the Apex deal hasn’t gone through. He says not all hope is lost—perhaps it’ll go through next... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...stay quiet so that Undine’s past wouldn’t offend Ralph’s family. Elmer explains that back in Apex, he and Undine eloped, although they only had about two weeks before Mr. Spragg stepped... (full context)
Chapter 37
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...death, Undine got news from her lawyers that Marvell’s estate had received $100,000 from the Apex Consolidation Company. The money goes to Undine because she never formally surrendered her custody over... (full context)
Chapter 41
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...gives some details about how he and Representative James J. Rolliver finally pulled off the Apex deal. Undine asks what he has planned next, other than business. Elmer says he’d like... (full context)
Chapter 43
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...be doing just that if she had only remained his wife. She thinks back to Apex and how when Elmer first arrived, no one knew anything about him. He started making... (full context)
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Elmer’s speech for the Apex Temperance Society went over wonderfully. Afterward, there was an ice cream supper in a church... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
In Apex, Undine judged people’s worth based on how good they were at getting what they wanted.... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
On the day of their walk in Apex, Elmer told Undine that he was down on his luck. Undine said that based on... (full context)
Chapter 45
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...wrong in her life. She asks him if he remembers strolling down Main Street in Apex with her. Elmer seems nostalgic but insists he really must get back home. (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...He knows what it’s like to be an outcast from back when he lived in Apex, which is how he’d end up again if news of their affair got out. If... (full context)